Late Tuesday night, shortly after the Mets bumbled their way to a dreary 6-2 loss against the Colorado Rockies, their sixth defeat in eight games, Manager Terry Collins offered reporters an impassioned recounting of a stern message he had just delivered to his players inside their locked clubhouse.
“We have not packed it in,” Collins said. “But as I told the guys, in our game perception is reality, and when you sit in the outside and you watch a game like tonight, the perception is, ‘They’ve packed it in.’ And I won’t stand for it.”
Rewind Tuesday’s postgame scene to the one that occurred at Citi Field on Sept. 15, 2011. Minutes after the Mets received a 10-1 thrashing from the Washington Nationals, culminating a homestand in which they lost eight of nine games, Collins sat in the Citi Field news conference room and fired off a heated critique of his players that was uncannily similar to the one he delivered Tuesday.
“Perception is reality in our game,” Collins said back then. “And the perception I have right now is we’ve folded it up.”
“And I won’t stand for that,” he added, using virtually the same words he recited Tuesday.
The fact that Collins was compelled to say the same thing twice, 11 months apart, suggests that nothing has changed yet as the Mets try to reshape their team into a younger, less expensive, group of players bursting with promise and producing results. That may eventually happen, but right now real progress seems elusive.
Both last September and this August, Collins was moved to say what he did because he felt his team was giving in and giving up. Last season, his first as the Mets’ manager, the team was a surprising 46-45 at the All-Star Game break, and 55-54 on Aug. 1, but a dismal 71-79 after that Sept. 15 loss.
This year, the Mets were an even more surprising 46-40 at the All-Star Game break, but have been horrendous since. When he spoke out Tuesday, the Mets had sunk to 57-66 on the season.
Last September, Collins said: “You come and play the game right. I don’t care what the situation is. I don’t care about anything but playing the game correctly. That’s all I care about. Our fans should be upset.”
On Tuesday, he said: “I believe in accountability. I believe in how you play the game right.”
Back then, he tried to shoulder the blame: “Obviously, this is an awful time, an awful time. And I’ll tell you what, as I’ve said many times before, I’m responsible.
He tried the same tactic Tuesday, too: “I’m the manager here, and when you have a game like that, where it looks like they’re not prepared, that’s my fault.”
Collins ended his speech last year with a warning about the future: “We’ve got two weeks to go, and if we’re going to fold it up, that tells me something. That tells me a lot about how it’s going to be when it comes crunchtime next year, when we are fighting for something.”
The Mets, of course, ended up having nothing at all to fight for this year. They entered their game Wednesday night 57-66 and just a game ahead of the last-place Miami Marlins.
Meanwhile, the Nationals, whom Collins held up in his speech last September as a team trying hard despite a losing record, are now way out of the Mets’ league. They began Wednesday with a record of 77-46, the best in the majors.
On Wednesday afternoon, Collins’s latest message was still being processed by his players as reporters milled around and waited for the latest disheartening announcement — that Johan Santana, who has struggled mightily, would most likely be shut down for the rest of the season because of a back injury.
Asked what he thought of Collins’s remarks, Ike Davis dismissed as absurd the idea that a group of players would give up on a season because the losses were mounting.
“This is our job,” he said. “We’re not going to go out there and not try hard, because the only way we make money is by trying hard.”
No one, Davis assured, would be packing it in, despite Collins’s concern: “Everyone’s going to try to do well because it’s the only way, one, to win, and two, they’ll stay in the big leagues.”
But reality, at least for Collins, is not based only on assurances of effort. He wants to see the real thing, and both last season and this, he has become concerned. And with the Mets no better off than they were a year ago, fans have a right to be concerned, too.
Concerned is an understatement.
This Mets message is a summer rerun [New York Times]